If there is one thing I learned from my Introduction History & Theory Film class is that your reaction to a film/movie is never wrong and never relevant to the analysis of the film/movie. So, for this blog post, I’ll try to make my points without emphasizing on whether I liked Contagion or not.
In the first scene, when Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) is on the phone, we see her right hand with a ring, but she is conversing with a guy with whom she had a one night stand with, so this leads us to assume that there is infidelity, the first conflict of the plot. Next, we see a bunch of zoom shots that forces us, audience, to fixate on one object at a time after a character has touched it, signaling that physical contact is crucial to whatever we are about to find out next. We see few individuals around the globe showing symptoms of loss of energy, possibly fever, feeling faint, dizziness, and sweating; when the model, Irina (Daria Strokous), collapses to floor, we now know that all the zoom shots and symptoms were leading up to a fatal epidemic, the main conflict of the plot.
We see several fast-paced scenes with excessive people on the screen, which makes us feel agitated, serving as a perfect metaphor for the virus itself, which is transmitted instantly and causes great discomfort. The discomfort is also conveyed by several other scenes where the screen seems to shake as the sick people, infected by the virus, struggle to walk or stand, and blurriness as they are about to have a seizure. The epidemic, aside from being a possible reality in the future and an allegory for the outbreaks of the past, touches on the subject of selfishness, an innate quality of humans. When there is a shortage for cures, the crowd goes crazy and acts beastly to show that they are capable of doing anything for their own need. The epidemic also hints at how people in higher rank, in this case Dr. Ellis (Laurence Fishburne), seem to mix up personal priorities with professional duties: Dr. Ellis gives the vaccine to his romantic partner before giving it to the rest of the public.
The virus in Contagion was modeled off a combination of influenza and Nipah, a virus that inflames the brain and causes respiratory difficulties. Interestingly, Nipah outbreak in the past were due to human contact with infected pigs in Malaysia and Singapore, and the pigs were infected from consuming fruits that were contaminated with urine or saliva from infected bats in Bangladesh and India. So, the last scene in the movie, Day 1, was quite realistic. It’s also very clever of the director/producer, Steven Soderbergh, to put Day 1 in the very end because this disables us, audience, from quickly blaming someone or something for the epidemic; the unclarity of who or what the antagonist is a big reason why we keep watching the movie till the end, despite knowing what it’s about from the obvious title.
Check out this article: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/cdc-experts-examine-the-science-of-hollywoods-contagion
Lastly, if any of you are interested in films, I would highly recommend taking Introduction History & Theory Film (ARTH 120) with Professor Scott MacDonald in the Fall semester. There is so much more to the film industry than the commercial movies we love and complain about, and this course will teach you that.